Hercule Poirot, PBS Masterpiece (Season 12)

Two new episodes featuring Agatha Christie's Belgian sleuth rise to the series' excellent writing, acting and production values.

“The Big Four” – Sunday, July 27, 2014

“Dead Man’s Folly” – Sunday, Aug. 5, 2014

PBS Masterpiece (check local listings for times)

Two new exciting episodes featuring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, Dame Agatha Christie’s favorite Belgian sleuth, will be aired soon on PBS Masterpiece Mystery. Of the entire series of 70 mysteries, they are two of the five Poirot programs not yet aired in the United States.

“The Big Four” begins with a shock. An elderly Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), sitting on a ranch, perhaps in Argentina, receives a letter from now Assistant Commissioner Japp (Philip Jackson) that rushes him back to London. Hercule Poirot is dead. On a cold snowy day, Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) bury their old friend. The next scene takes place six weeks before the funeral, as the seeds of World War II are germinating. An international symbolic chess event is sponsored by the “Peace Party,” led by Chinese pacifist Li Chang Yen, American millionaire Abe Ryland, and celebrated French scientist Madame Régine Olivier. At the chess match between Ryland and a Russian chess grandmaster, the Russian suddenly and mysteriously dies, as Poirot and Japp look on in alarm. Amidst a conspiracy theory fostered by a persistent journalist about a sinister group known as the Big Four, Poirot and his old friends face dangerous enemies.

“The Big Four” is an exciting, complex, well-written mystery, adapted by Mark Gatiss (“Sherlock”). David Suchet and the three other stars — yes, even Hugh Fraser — give outstanding performances filled with expression and nuance. The added undercurrents in Poirot’s character enable him to perform with more depth than the typically confident Poirot.

The Poirot season continues with “Dead Man’s Folly,” a strange psychological thriller co-starring Zoë Wanamaker (“Hallowe’en Party,” 2010) as eccentric crime novelist Ariadne Oliver (purported to be modeled on Christie herself.) Oliver urges Poirot to join her at a fête at Nasse House, the Devon summer estate of the wealthy Sir George Stubbs and his childlike wife, Hattie. Oliver has been asked to invent a murder hunt game for the party, but fears that something is amiss and that the game she is preparing may turn into be a real murder. Poirot believes that the residents and guests are behaving strangely, but sees no basis for cancelling the game. On the day of the fête, however, several occurrences end up fulfilling Mrs. Oliver’s initial premonition. When Hattie’s Caribbean cousin arrives unexpectedly, Hattie seems frightened of him, and then disappears. The discovery that the young girl playing the victim in the murder hunt has actually been murdered sets off a hunt for a real-life killer.

This mystery is a bit more bizarre than the typical Christie cozy. A young innocent girl is murdered, one of the main characters has a mental defect, and a 14-year old is avidly curious about so-called “sex maniacs.” None of the residents and guests are likable; the plot is convoluted; the clues are obscure; and therefore, the resolution of the puzzle is anticlimactic.

I’m getting very sentimental about the looming end of the Poirot series. Between author Christie and actor Suchet, the Poirot mysteries have been superb TV entertainment, with outstanding writing, excellent acting, first-rate production values, but most of all, with the creation of the marvelous, intriguing three-dimensional character with the “little grey cells.” The final three mysteries will premiere on www.Acorn.TV and its Roku channel, among other platforms, beginning August 11, 2014, with “Elephants Can Remember,” August 18, 2014, for “Labours of Hercules,” and August 25, 2014, for “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case.” The final three Poirot episodes will be available on PBS stations in November 2014.

Emily S. Mendel
emilymendel@gmail.com
©Emily S. Mendel 2014 All Rights Reserved.

San Francisco, CA
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.